National Guard assistance to foodbanks extended into December

The All People’s Fresh Market in Columbus, Ohio on July 28, 2020. (Brooke LaValley/ Ohio Capital Journal)

Ohio’s volunteer-strapped foodbanks are getting help into December, the Ohio National Guard announced Thursday.

Demand for the services of food banks has jumped since the onset of the new coronavirus — especially since federal unemployment supplements expired on July 31.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, has said a big challenge in meeting the increased demand has been getting volunteers to work at her association’s facilities. Many have stayed away out of health concerns, she said.

The Ohio National Guard has been helping to fill the void. But with federal funding on the wane, that assistance seemed poised to dry up. Then some rare good news came on Thursday.

“Federal funding for the National Guard response nationwide for COVID-19 missions has been extended into December,” the Guard said in a press release. “While there are Ohio National Guard units transitioning out of the foodbank mission in order to return to civilian and military obligations, new units are being brought in to continue to provide assistance at all 14 (food banks and warehouses) throughout the state.”

The top leader of the Ohio Guard said the mission has been a good one for his troops.

“The length and scope of this mission has been unprecedented for the National Guard, and our work is not finished yet,” the statement quoted  Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr. as saying. “I am proud of the efforts of every Soldier and Airman who has stepped up when their state needed them. The Ohio National Guard has not only significantly increased the productivity of food banks across the state during the pandemic, but our members have also made long-lasting and personal friendships with their foodbank partners.”

Hamler-Fugitt said the Guard’s assistance has been “huge” to Ohio foodbanks.

“Since mid-March, the Ohio National Guard has packed more than 43 million pounds of food and has distributed more than 50 million pounds of food, as well as assisted in providing more than 700,000 meals to citizens in need throughout the state,” she said in an email.